Monday, January 28, 2013

Best Cellar

This post is about a poem I wrote. Wait! Come back here! Sit down. Pay attention. Yes: POETRY. Stop squirming. You might actually like this.
There was a time when I was a serious poet. But my poems were anything BUT serious.You might say I was heavily into light verse. I was in High School at the time, when the two most descriptive adjectives to describe me were "Earnest" and "Goon".
Now, relax. Unclench those white knuckles. I am NOT about to foist my high school poems on you. Shoulders....down..........goooood......breathe....... its okay.......
Writing light verse all day and night (instead of doing, you know, HOMEWORK), was a great laboratory for a budding writer. It taught me the supreme importance of Rhythm in writing. I haven't written much poetry since Best Cellar - almost 20 years ago - but my prose is nonetheless very musical. Read my posts aloud and you can almost dance to 'em.
Anyway, in High School I wrote about 4,000 lines of stuff that I thought was good enough to keep. (My criteria for 'good' at the time was that the cute girl in front of me in Algebra liked 'em. {And therein we can glimpse the causal forces of almost every single line of poetry ever written, and indeed the majority of all art ever created.})
I still have most of this angst-ridden dreck, and it all resides in "The Trunk", where it will live forever, never get thrown out, and also never see the light of day.
I still dabble in poetry occasionally. Witness my haiku about our Roomba:
Pic courtesy of some site on the 'Net.
Um, sorry.
With tinny fanfare
I happily clean your floors
Please empty my ass.
In college I moved on to short stories, and I even wrote a bowel rupturing embarrassment of a novel - which also lives out its lonely existence in the depths of the The Trunk. Don't even ask.
And then in 1993 my washing machine broke down. Well, it was the landlord's machine, and it stopped cleaning our clothes and just entertained itself with pumping out sudsy water all over our livingroom floor. I called the Property Management Service and they laughed and laughed and laughed and said it would "be awhile" until they could get us a new machine or fix the old one. ("Be awhile" eventually equalled 3 months.)
1982, age 17. Transition from cars to girls, 
judging by the bulletinboard. Generic 
"preppie" shirt, courtesy of MayCo. Portion of 
Tutankhamun poster behind me. Tools of the 
trade in situ: Thesaurus, Almond Roca, Liquid 
Paper and "Highway to Hell" on cassette. 
Also, that tendon-crushing manual typewriter. 
This meant.......(dramatic music flourish).....the LAUNDROMAT. And here is where people divide into two camps:
  • Camp #1 says "Oh well. Nothing to be done about it. Best start saving my quarters." 
  • Camp #2 says "Oh HELL no!" and moves back in with its parents so they can use their washer and dryer.
Me, I'm such a freak loop I said "Yaaaay! Adventure! Periodic forced relocation to a strange, alien environment full of colorful characers and exotic smells! I believe I shall use this unique opportunity to craft an Epic Saga!"
The setting and basic plot of "Best Cellar" come from a dream I had. (Regular visitors to Angus-land know of my propensity for cinematic, O. Henry type dreams.) Each week I would add a stanza or two and then put my papers in with my laundry stuff and not look at it again until the next week.
My 1983 Senior High School
Photo from Alta Loma High
School in Rancho Cucamonga.
Underneath it says "Goon".
The poem ended at about the same time as the washer being fixed. And to tell the truth, I was kinda sad when I had to give up my evenings in the loud and smelly laundromat; I was seriously getting INTO this epic.
Best Cellar is written in a complex AABBBA rhyme scheme. I think the closest established froo-froo title for this type of poem is a clogyrnach, except my lines are all the same number of syllables (more or less). I did achieve a few internal rhymes, but I wasn’t aiming for anything specific there - strictly bonus points.
And yes kids, clogyrnach is really a word. If you paused at that in the last paragraph, had your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth in confusion, threw up your mental hands, and said to yourself “Why that might as well be Welsh!” you are 100% right. It’s not misspelled – It’s Welsh.
Dear Cafe Press: My next T-shirt should read: “It’s not misspelled – it’s Welsh!”
(Geezooks - a 700 word introduction? I'm not writing a Michener novel here!)
Anyhoo, here is the adventure of Annabel Mercy Monroe. Remember it's 1993, so forgive the reference to floppy discs.
Try reading it aloud!

Best Cellar

1985, age 20. 
(A curmudgeon's fable)

I can't be sure but it just might be
That off in 2193
This little tale may come to pass
The future's as cloudy as the past
And even though you didn't ask
I'll spin a yarn for thee.

Can you see a museum close by a brook?
The stream is clear but the building's been shook
By some quakes, some abuse, some budget cuts
It stays open except those years when its shut
Those who know of it say: "stuck in a rut."
For this is a shrine to books.

"Books?" say the locals, chatting on the 'net
"With pages, right?" for we all forget
What it was like for those before
Before the 'nets changed the fact into lore
And pages to text and covers? What for?
The software seemed to be set.

So no one came out to the crumbly tomb
Yet its funding was never snipped from the loom
Of the budget - enough to light up the cases
Thousands of books, all averting their faces
Plus a caretaker whose job these days is
1986, Great Peace March.
To open and close up the gloom

The caretaker was Annabel Mercy Monroe
Who signed with the National Service Bureau
To pay off her college, now over and done
She thought a museum job would be fun
But so far no guys, no friends, no one!
And no computer of course, don't you know.

She cleaned display glass and made funny faces
Looked at the titles and thought of the places
She'd rather be, the things she's rather be doing
Rather than dusting and loafing and endless vacuuming
And the basement: the setting and (ick!) the removing
Of the mouse traps beneath the old cases.

So one stormy day in '93
While Annabel napped 'neath a paperback tree
Two lightning strikes struck at opposite ends
Of the town and the grid on which the city depends
Burned out like a bulb with no chance to mend
Blankness fell over the city.

The screens dried up and they shriveled away
(The 'net full of holes one is tempted to say)
Dinners uncooked, showers got cold
The young felt younger - the old, more old
Across the land nothing bought or sold
It seemed the credits would roll on the world that day.

Annabel woke with a shiver of fright
Nothing civil in the museum that night
She stepped from the paperback tree - looked around
Lights? Heat? Muzak? not to be found
The small stream outside was the only sound
And the full moon above the only light

Outside, 'cross the fields, the city was black
So she ran cross the brook to the caretakers shack
Dug out the fireplace - it was really that old
1988, Age 24.
Found some matches that were sprouting some mold
And recalling the legends and tales she'd been told
Got a small fire going - and then settled back.

The next week was massive, civic de-evolving
A mixture of looting and group problem solving
The grid repair would take quite awhile
A harvest was gathered from the fields growing wild
People adapted to this trendy lifestyle
But entertainment was not so quickly resolving.

One night Annabel heard noise on the grounds
She took the stew off the fire (the cans she had found)
And looked out the window to see folks on the plain
So she ran 'cross the stream to the museum again
She unlocked the door, hey give 'em free rein
And they all entered - without a sound.

Annabel lighted candles so all could see
She reached in her cloak and hoisted her keys
For she finally connected why these people were there
Not just to check, no, not just to stare
But to read and share the books under her care
She opened the cases with deviant glee.

Memories trace titles along ancient covers
Fingers reach out, withdraw, and then hover
Eyes look around, smile, and then dash!
Spines open up, the books slip out and splash
Like urns full of ash, like disposable trash
Cheap paper degrades they discover.

All stares at Annabel Mercy Monroe
Like she was the cause of this dark magic show
She stepped back, and then back, blind from the glares
Unable to say that it just wasn't fair
They surged through the dust and she ran down the stairs
To the basement that waited below.
1996, Age 31.

And in the mass of dark confusion and fear
Before the candles were brought - before thought reappeared
An old case was toppled, books jumped for their lives
They bounced and they splayed but most made it alive
For when pulp papers' dust the rag-weave survives
It lives and it thrives, year after year.

Well the light made it down and most books were claimed
Annabel wrote down each title and name
And accepted apoligies (and made a few dates)
They cleaned up the place - had a party so great
They read poems aloud and kept her up late
And by morn her museum had brought her some fame.

Eventually the power was put back on line
But the books still keep her busy full time
Her job now is far from utilitarian
Not a caretaker for an idea antiquarian
She's upgraded (with pay) to city librarian
And that seems to suit her just fine.

Let us leave the museum - the library tonight
And cross the clear stream in the bright moonlight
And peek in the window of the librarians space
The fire still glows and lights up her face
Annabel Mercy Monroe marks her place
With a floppy disk, which seems only right.

Angus McMahan

P.S. "Freak Loop": I first was going to use 'Fruit Loop' there, and then in the rewrite I thought the word 'Freak' might fit better. But I forgot to delete the 'loop' part. I just discovered my typo now and I have decided, what the hell, I'll leave it like that.
And thus we peer into the complex inner fever sanctum of the Writer At Work......

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